How to Create a Profitable Annual Business Plan [+Free Template]

Jody Sutter

Published: February 09, 2023

The beginning of a new quarter is the perfect time to start planning the next year for your business. Start the next year or quarter off on the right foot by creating an annual business plan for your company.

annual business plan outline

Q4 often brings a flurry of business-related activity. And while all this activity helps fill the pipeline, it can distract you from reflecting on past performance and preparing for the year or quarter ahead.

Fortunately, you can write an annual business plan at any time of the year. Start your plan now to set your team up for success.

What is an annual business plan?

An annual business plan is just that — a plan for you and your employees to help achieve the company’s goals for the year. Think of an annual business plan as the guide to complete all of your company’s overall goals outlined in your initial business plan.

The first business plan you wrote for your business is the blueprint and the annual business plan is the detailed instructions to keep your business running long-term.

Usually, an annual business plan contains a short description of your company, a marketing analysis, and a sales/marketing plan.

Because an annual business plan is for the year, you’ll want to review your business at the end of four consecutive quarters and revise your plan for the next four quarters.

Why is annual business planning important?

Even though the fourth quarter might be a busy time of year, don’t put off creating an annual business plan.

Not only will your annual business plan keep you on track, it will also help you map out a strategy to keep your employees accountable. You can then more easily achieve the overall goals of your business.

Here are some reasons why it’s well worth creating an annual business plan for your company.

You can measure your success.

An annual business plan is the best way to measure your success. And I’m referring to the collective “you” here because it takes the entire company or all of your employees to make new business efforts effective.

An annual plan not only sets expectations for you but also for others within your company who need to contribute to the business’s success.

You can reflect on the past and plan ahead.

Creating an annual business plan allows you to reflect on the past 12 months.

As you reflect on the previous year, you’ll be able to get a good idea of what your business is capable of doing and set accurate, attainable projections based on previous numbers.

You’ll define your business goals.

Your annual business plan will shed some light on what the heck you do at your company. For those who are not routinely involved in new business, it can seem like a black hole of mystery.

Sharing your plan — whether to an executive committee, department heads, or even the entire staff — adds clarity and gives everyone something to aim for.

You can impress your boss.

If you head a department that could benefit from an annual business plan, don’t wait to be asked before you start writing. Get on your CEO’s schedule to review your outline and discuss your intentions for putting this plan together.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. You can get the ball rolling with the basic template that follows.

Annual Business Plan Template

Each section of your annual business plan will help tell the story of your company and clearly define your company’s goals for the year.

Let’s take a look at each section of the annual business plan template .

Executive Summary

Annual business plan template, executive summary

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Annual Business Planning Template

Written by Dave Lavinsky

Business Annual Plan Template

What is an Annual Business Plan?

An annual business plan is a document that sets out the goals and objectives for a company over the course of a year. It provides a roadmap for how the business will operate and achieve its desired results. A simple business plan template will help guide you in creating a comprehensive annual plan.

Steps to Create an Annual Plan

There are seven steps to creating an annual business plan:

  • Define the company’s overall vision and strategy.
  • Set specific, measurable goals and objectives for the year.
  • Identify the resources needed to achieve these goals.
  • Create a timeline for each goal and objective.
  • Assign responsibility for each goal and objective to specific individuals or teams.
  • Review and revise the plan on a regular basis.
  • Each of these steps is important in creating a well-formulated annual plan. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Defining the Company’s Overall Vision and Strategy

The first step in creating an annual plan is defining the company’s overall vision and strategy. This involves deciding where the company wants to be in the future and outlining the steps needed to get there. It’s important to be realistic in setting these goals and to make sure they are aligned with the company’s overall strategic vision.

Setting Specific, Measurable Goals and Objectives

Once the company’s overarching vision has been defined, it’s time to set specific, measurable goals and objectives for the year. These should be attainable but challenging and should align with the company’s overall strategy. Each goal should have a target date for completion, as well as a specific metric that will be used to measure progress.

Identifying Resources Needed To Achieve Goals

Next, it’s important to identify the resources needed to achieve these goals. This includes everything from manpower and funding, to office space and equipment. It’s also important to assign responsibility for each goal/objective to specific individuals or teams. This helps ensure that everyone is aware of their role in achieving the desired results.

Creating a Timeline

Once goals have been defined and resources have been identified, it’s time to create a timeline for each one. This will help keep everyone on track throughout the year and ensure that tasks are completed in a timely manner. A Gantt chart can be helpful in organizing this information visually.

Assigning Responsibility

Finally, it’s important to assign responsibility for each goal/objective to specific individuals or teams. This helps ensure that everyone is aware of their role in achieving the desired results. By assigning clear responsibilities, tasks can be delegated efficiently and everyone will know who is responsible for what outcomes.

Reviewing and Revising Plan Regularly

It’s important to review and revise your annual plan on a regular basis. This ensures that the goals are still relevant and achievable and that the resources required are still available. It also allows for any necessary adjustments to be made if something isn’t working as planned. A good rule of thumb is to review the plan quarterly or more often if needed.

Parts of the Annual Strategic Plan Template

There are four key parts to the annual plan template:

1. Vision and Strategy

The first step is to define the company’s overall vision and strategy. This will provide a framework for all of the other steps in the process.

2. Goals and Objectives

The next step is to set specific, measurable goals and objectives for the year. These should be aligned with the company’s vision and strategy.

3. Resources

The third step is to identify the resources needed to achieve the goals and objectives. This includes things like budget, staff, and materials.

4. Timeline

The fourth step is to create a timeline for each goal and objective. This will help ensure that everything is completed on time and within budget.

The Importance of a Well-Formulated Annual Strategic Plan

The importance of a well-formulated annual plan cannot be overstated. It provides a clear roadmap for the company’s operations and sets forth a clear vision for its desired results. Additionally, it helps to ensure that all employees are aware of the company’s goals and objectives and are working towards the same end.

The Difference between an Annual Plan and A Company’s Broader Strategic Vision

The difference between an annual business plan and a company’s strategic vision is that the former is more focused on the specific goals and objectives to be achieved over the course of a year, while the latter is more concerned with the company’s long-term direction. An annual business plan lays out a roadmap for the company’s operations over the course of a year and sets specific targets to be met. A company’s strategic plan, on the other hand, is more concerned with the overall direction of the business and its long-term goals.

Ultimately the difference between an annual plan and a company’s broader strategic vision is that the former is more focused on the specific goals and objectives to be achieved over the course of a year, while the latter is more concerned with the company’s long-term direction.

Best Practices for Annual Planning

There are a few key best practices that businesses should keep in mind when planning their annual operations.  

First and foremost, it is important to be realistic about what can be accomplished in a year. Businesses should establish achievable goals and objectives, and then create a plan of action to achieve them. This includes setting timelines and specific tasks that need to be completed in order to reach the goal. 

Another key element of effective annual planning is creating a budget and sticking to it. Budgets help businesses stay accountable and track progress toward their goals. 

In addition, effective annual planning should always include regular review and course correction as needed. Businesses should routinely assess their progress, make necessary adjustments, and ensure they are still on track to meet their goals.

When it comes to business annual planning, there are a few best practices that can help your organization make the most of the process. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  •  Set realistic goals. It’s important to set realistic goals for your annual planning process – this way, you’re more likely to achieve them. Be honest with yourself about what’s achievable and what’s not, and make sure your team is on the same page.
  • Make a roadmap. Once you’ve set your goals, create a roadmap for how you’ll achieve them. This will help keep everyone on track and ensure that you’re making progress toward your targets.
  • Use data to inform your decisions. When making decisions about your annual planning, use data to inform your decisions. This will help you make informed choices based on evidence rather than intuition alone.
  • Communicate regularly. Make sure to communicate regularly with your team throughout the annual planning process – this will help keep everyone updated on what’s happening and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal.
  • Celebrate successes along the way. Celebrate successes along the way – this will keep everyone motivated and help ensure that the process is fun as well as productive.

Annual Contingency Plan Example

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a contingency plan or clause in case things don’t go as expected. Below is a sample contingency plan.

“In the event that we are unable to achieve our sales goals for the year, we will implement a number of contingency measures. These measures may include reducing our advertising budget, downsizing our workforce, and suspending operations at certain locations. We will only implement these measures if absolutely necessary and we are confident that they will help us to get back on track.”

Strategic Business Plan Example

Below is an example of a strategic business plan.

“Our long-term goal is to become the leading provider of XYZ products and services in our industry. To achieve this, we will need to increase our market share, expand our operations into new markets, and continue to innovate our product offerings. We are confident that we can achieve these goals and become the industry leader.”

Annual Business Plan Template

Executive summary.

The executive summary is a brief overview of the company’s annual plans while taking into account the company’s broader vision. It should include a description of the company, its products, and services, its marketing and sales strategy, its operations plan, and its financial plan.

Company Overview

The company overview section of the annual planning document should provide a brief history of the company, its mission and vision, and its current status.

Products and Services

This section of the annual plans should describe the company’s products and services in detail. It should also include information on the company’s competitive advantages and any new products or services that will be launched in the coming year.

Marketing Plan

The marketing plan section of the company’s strategy should outline the marketing and sales strategy for the entire organization for the coming year. It should include information on the company’s target market, its branding and positioning strategy, its advertising and promotion budget, and its sales goals.

Operations Plan

The operations plan section of the annual business plan should describe the company’s methods for manufacturing, distribution, and other aspects of its operations. It should also include information on the company’s capacity, its supply chain, and its quality control procedures.

Financial Plan

The financial plan section of the annual business plan should include a summary of the company’s financials, the budgetary approval process, contingency plans, as well as the broader visions and plans for funding and investment.

With regards to financials, you want to include past and projected Income Statements, Balance Sheets, and Cash Flow Statements. Also, if you are seeking external financing, document the amount of funding you need and the key expected uses of these funds.

Annual Goals

When creating your business plan, it’s important to set annual goals and objectives. This will help you track your progress and ensure that you’re on track to reaching your long-term goals. Some things you may want to consider when setting your annual goals include:

  • Increasing revenue
  • Expanding your customer base
  • Improving product or service quality
  • Reducing costs
  • Developing new products or services
  • Enhancing marketing efforts
  • Expanding into new markets

One of the most important aspects of any business plan is setting annual goals. These goals should be attainable, yet ambitious, and should help to guide your business in the right direction. Some things you may want to consider when setting your annual goals include increasing sales, expanding your customer base, improving productivity or efficiency, reducing costs, or developing new products or services. Whatever your goals may be, make sure to document them and track your progress throughout the year. This will help you ensure that you are on track to meeting your targets and achieving success for your business.

The appendix of the annual business plan template should include any supporting documentation that is relevant to the plan, such as market research reports, financial projections, and product specifications.

Every company should have an annual business plan. This document helps you track your progress, set goals, plan forward, and make necessary adjustments throughout the year related to key results. Without a business plan, it is difficult to make informed decisions about where to allocate your resources or measure your success. If you need help getting started, we have a great business planning template that can get you on the right track. By following our simple tips and using our template, you can create a comprehensive business plan that will help ensure your success in the coming year. 

How to Finish Your Business Plan Template in 1 Day!

Don’t you wish there was a faster, easier way to finish your business plan template?

With Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template you can finish your plan in just 8 hours or less!

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How to Write a Business Plan, Step by Step

Rosalie Murphy

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

1. Write an executive summary

2. describe your company, 3. state your business goals, 4. describe your products and services, 5. do your market research, 6. outline your marketing and sales plan, 7. perform a business financial analysis, 8. make financial projections, 9. add additional information to an appendix, business plan tips and resources.

A business plan is a document that outlines your business’s financial goals and explains how you’ll achieve them. A strong, detailed plan will provide a road map for the business’s next three to five years, and you can share it with potential investors, lenders or other important partners.


Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing your business plan.

» Need help writing? Learn about the best business plan software .

This is the first page of your business plan. Think of it as your elevator pitch. It should include a mission statement, a brief description of the products or services offered, and a broad summary of your financial growth plans.

Though the executive summary is the first thing your investors will read, it can be easier to write it last. That way, you can highlight information you’ve identified while writing other sections that go into more detail.

» MORE: How to write an executive summary in 6 steps

Next up is your company description, which should contain information like:

Your business’s registered name.

Address of your business location .

Names of key people in the business. Make sure to highlight unique skills or technical expertise among members of your team.

Your company description should also define your business structure — such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation — and include the percent ownership that each owner has and the extent of each owner’s involvement in the company.

Lastly, it should cover the history of your company and the nature of your business now. This prepares the reader to learn about your goals in the next section.

» MORE: How to write a company overview for a business plan

annual business plan outline

The third part of a business plan is an objective statement. This section spells out exactly what you’d like to accomplish, both in the near term and over the long term.

If you’re looking for a business loan or outside investment, you can use this section to explain why you have a clear need for the funds, how the financing will help your business grow, and how you plan to achieve your growth targets. The key is to provide a clear explanation of the opportunity presented and how the loan or investment will grow your company.

For example, if your business is launching a second product line, you might explain how the loan will help your company launch the new product and how much you think sales will increase over the next three years as a result.

In this section, go into detail about the products or services you offer or plan to offer.

You should include the following:

An explanation of how your product or service works.

The pricing model for your product or service.

The typical customers you serve.

Your supply chain and order fulfillment strategy.

Your sales strategy.

Your distribution strategy.

You can also discuss current or pending trademarks and patents associated with your product or service.

Lenders and investors will want to know what sets your product apart from your competition. In your market analysis section , explain who your competitors are. Discuss what they do well, and point out what you can do better. If you’re serving a different or underserved market, explain that.

Here, you can address how you plan to persuade customers to buy your products or services, or how you will develop customer loyalty that will lead to repeat business.

» MORE: R e a d our complete guide to small business marketing

If you’re a startup, you may not have much information on your business financials yet. However, if you’re an existing business, you’ll want to include income or profit-and-loss statements, a balance sheet that lists your assets and debts, and a cash flow statement that shows how cash comes into and goes out of the company.

You may also include metrics such as:

Net profit margin: the percentage of revenue you keep as net income.

Current ratio: the measurement of your liquidity and ability to repay debts.

Accounts receivable turnover ratio: a measurement of how frequently you collect on receivables per year.

This is a great place to include charts and graphs that make it easy for those reading your plan to understand the financial health of your business.

» NerdWallet’s picks for setting up your business finances:

The best business checking accounts .

The best business credit cards .

The best accounting software .

This is a critical part of your business plan if you’re seeking financing or investors. It outlines how your business will generate enough profit to repay the loan or how you will earn a decent return for investors.

Here, you’ll provide your business’s monthly or quarterly sales, expenses and profit estimates over at least a three-year period — with the future numbers assuming you’ve obtained a new loan.

Accuracy is key, so carefully analyze your past financial statements before giving projections. Your goals may be aggressive, but they should also be realistic.

List any supporting information or additional materials that you couldn’t fit in elsewhere, such as resumes of key employees, licenses, equipment leases, permits, patents, receipts, bank statements, contracts and personal and business credit history. If the appendix is long, you may want to consider adding a table of contents at the beginning of this section.

How much do you need?

with Fundera by NerdWallet

We’ll start with a brief questionnaire to better understand the unique needs of your business.

Once we uncover your personalized matches, our team will consult you on the process moving forward.

Here are some tips to help your business plan stand out:

Avoid over-optimism: If you’re applying for a business loan at a local bank, the loan officer likely knows your market pretty well. Providing unreasonable sales estimates can hurt your chances of loan approval.

Proofread: Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors can jump off the page and turn off lenders and prospective investors, taking their mind off your business and putting it on the mistakes you made. If writing and editing aren't your strong suit, you may want to hire a professional business plan writer, copy editor or proofreader.

Use free resources: SCORE is a nonprofit association that offers a large network of volunteer business mentors and experts who can help you write or edit your business plan. You can search for a mentor or find a local SCORE chapter for more guidance.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers , which provide free business consulting and help with business plan development, can also be a resource.

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Annual Planning

Man with laptop developing an annual plan during an annual planning meeting

A strong annual plan builds on the company’s broader strategic vision and core values while still providing specific goals, metrics, and budgets to guide managers and employees. If it’s doing its job, the annual business plan is also flexible enough to adapt to an unpredictable and often volatile market.

Take the Scenario Planner demo

What is annual planning?

An annual business plan is a road map for a company and its employees. It contains milestones that carry the plan forward through a series of smaller goals that lead to a broader vision of where the business aims to be by the end of the year.

When a new year arrives, many people make plans and resolutions for the coming 12 months. They look back at the previous year and consider what worked for them and what they want to improve. Then they plan what goals they want to achieve, from getting out of debt to losing weight to learning a new language. Similarly, a company or organization will use an annual business plan to tighten its belt, improve performance, and reach specific goals over the coming year.

Whether using an annual business plan template or working from scratch, a company will review the expectations and results from the previous year in order to create an annual plan that gives everyone in the organization a sense of where they’re headed and how they will get there.

Why annual planning is important.

An annual business plan empowers workers to set specific business goals based on the company’s overarching strategy, and it also holds teams accountable for achieving stated goals.

The annual plan connects directly to where a company wants to be in 3 to 5 years and defines what’s critical to achieve over the next year to progress toward longer-term targets.

A well-formulated annual plan also keeps the workforce united and focused, energizing them to be more productive.

Additional benefits of an annual business plan include:

  • Providing a stronger connection to the strategic plan
  • Putting the mission of the organization into daily practice
  • Providing workers with a clear sense of direction in their departments or roles

What’s the difference between an annual plan and a strategic plan?

In the strategic planning process , an organization describes or affirms its mission, deciding what it wants to achieve over the next few years (vision) and setting strategic priorities to help make that vision a reality.

The strategic plan works hand in hand with the annual business plan. The former provides an overarching vision of what the company wants to achieve, and the annual plan provides the nuts and bolts of the necessary work to be done over the coming year.

So, the annual business plan depends on the strategy for its priorities, and the strategy depends on the annual plan to execute its ideas about the organization’s vision, mission, purpose, and goals. Logistics, projects, allocation of resources, and timing are covered in the annual plan.

Preparing to create an annual plan.

Before you can look ahead, you need to first look back, take what you’ve learned, and recommit yourself to your company’s values and priorities. Thus, reviewing your old plan and assessing its results against expectations is an important first step.

You should also review your company’s:

  • Mission statement: This is a guiding declaration that describes  what your company does and differentiates you from your competition.
  • Vision statement : This is an aspirational statement about what your company wants to become—an important factor in setting the annual plan’s priorities.
  • Core values: These are the principles, beliefs, and philosophies that shape your company’s culture and support your vision for the future.
  • Financial information, including budgeting: This is important because annual planning is connected to the budgetary approval process for the next fiscal year, including anticipated revenue, expenses, and growth predictions.
  • Key problems and issues: By understanding what went wrong the previous year and the issues it faced, a company can offer remedies in its annual plan to improve future outcomes.

What is included in an annual plan?

There are many annual business plan templates you can use to make your plan. Generally, they contain these elements:

Stated goals (SMART)

Your yearly plan should include both SMART and stretch goals.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals are an enduring staple of the business world, helping to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, ensure your time and resources are used productively, and increase your chances of success. Stretch goals, as the name suggests, require above-and-beyond effort and innovation to pull off, with the promise of a greater payoff. Include a mixture of both in your annual plan.

Budget and financials

An annual plan also includes projections for the coming 12 months, forecasting income and outlays. Your projections will help you plan for cash flow dips, pinpoint financing needs, and decide the best timing for projects.

Part of this involves developing monthly financial projections by recording expected income based on sales forecasts and anticipated expenses for labor, supplies, overhead, and so on. It’s wise to prepare a projected income (profit and loss) statement and a balance sheet projection.

You can also use the projections to determine financing needs, if any. Well-prepared projections will make it easier to qualify for a loan.

Timelines and checkpoints

To reach where you want your business to be in a year, take your larger goals and split them up into smaller goals set on specific timelines. As you set your deadlines, include metrics that will indicate how successful you’ve been in achieving your goals.

Clearly outlined expectations and responsibilities

An annual business plan works best if it’s aspirational but achievable, with practical goals that are spelled out in clear language, indicating which individuals, teams, or departments are responsible for which parts of the plan. Given that almost 50% of employees in the United States don’t know what is expected of them at work, a little bit of clarity can go a long way.

Vision for what the business looks like at the end of the year

As much as annual business plans are about the practical implementation of a company’s strategy, it’s also important to keep the organization’s aspirational future vision in mind. Having a clear vision of what successful completion of your annual planning goals looks like increases your chances of success.

Contingency plans

What happens if your company’s cash flow gets into trouble? It’s a good idea to set up emergency financial reservoirs before they’re necessary. Maintaining a cash reserve or keeping room in a line of credit are both good contingency measures. Remember to compare your actual financial results to your projections throughout the year, so you can spot financial problems before they spiral out of control.

Creating an annual plan is easier when you use the right tools. These can include an annual business plan template that organizes planning efforts and a wide variety of software solutions for writing business and strategy plans.

As you execute your annual plan, it’s also a good idea to rely on a work management platform  with strategic planning tools that allow you to collaborate productively, create content, and manage complex processes. Using features like Workfront's Scenario Planner , you can simplify the annual planning process, adapt to market shifts with continuous planning, compare scenarios for risk and effectiveness, and stay ahead of the competition.

Armed with the right tools, plans, and processes, you can create a well-conceived and executed annual business plan that ensures the year ahead lives up to your expectations.

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Blog Business

How to Write a Business Plan Outline [Examples + Templates] 

By Letícia Fonseca , Aug 11, 2023

business plan outline

When venturing into crafting a business plan, the initial hurdle often lies in taking that first step.

So, how can you evade those prolonged hours of staring at a blank page? Initiate your journey with the aid of a business plan outline.

As with any endeavor, an outline serves as the beacon of clarity, illuminating the path to confront even the most formidable tasks. This holds particularly true when composing pivotal documents vital to your triumph, much like a business plan.

Nonetheless, I understand the enormity of a business plan’s scope, which might make the task of outlining it seem daunting. This is precisely why I’ve compiled all the requisite information to facilitate the creation of a business plan outline. No need to break a sweat!

And if you’re seeking further assistance, a business plan maker and readily available business plan templates can offer valuable support in shaping your comprehensive plan.

Read on for answers to all your business plan outline questions or jump ahead for some handy templates. 

Click to jump ahead:

What is a business plan outline (and why do you need one), what format should you choose for your business plan outline, what are the key components of a business plan outline.

  • Business plan template examples
  • Writing tips to ace your outline 

A business plan outline is the backbone of your business plan. It contains all the most important information you’ll want to expand on in your full-length plan. 

Think of it this way: your outline is a frame for your plan. It provides a high-level idea of what the final plan should look like, what it will include and how all the information will be organized. 

Why would you do this extra step? Beyond saving you from blank page syndrome, an outline ensures you don’t leave any essential information out of your plan — you can see all the most important points at a glance and quickly identify any content gaps. 

It also serves as a writing guide. Once you know all the sections you want in your plan, you just need to expand on them. Suddenly, you’re “filling in the blanks” as opposed to writing a plan from scratch!

Incidentally, using a business plan template like this one gives you a running head start, too: 

business plan outline

Perhaps most importantly, a business plan outline keeps you focused on the essential parts of your document. (Not to mention what matters most to stakeholders and investors.)  With an outline, you’ll spend less time worrying about structure or organization and more time perfecting the actual content of your document. 

If you’re looking for more general advice, you can read about  how to create a business plan here . But if you’re working on outlining your plan, stick with me.

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Most business plans fit into one of two formats. 

The format you choose largely depends on three factors: (1) the stage of your business, (2) if you’re presenting the plan to investors and (3) what you want to achieve with your business plan. 

Let’s have a closer look at these two formats and why you might choose one over the other.

Traditional format

Traditional business plans  are typically long, detailed documents. In many cases, they take up to 50-60 pages, but it’s not uncommon to see plans spanning 100+ pages. 

Traditional plans are long because they cover  every aspect  of your business. They leave nothing out. You’ll find a traditional business plan template with sections like executive summary, company description, target market, market analysis, marketing plan, financial plan, and more. Basically: the more information the merrier.

This business plan template isn’t of a traditional format, but you could expand it into one by duplicating pages:

business plan outline

Due to their high level of detail, traditional formats are the best way to sell your business. They show you’re reliable and have a clear vision for your business’s future. 

If you’re planning on presenting your plan to investors and stakeholders, you’ll want to go with a traditional plan format. The more information you include, the fewer doubts and questions you’ll get when you present your plan, so don’t hold back. 

Traditional business plans require more detailed outlines before drafting since there’s a lot of information to cover. You’ll want to list all the sections and include bullet points describing what each section should cover. 

It’s also a good idea to include all external resources and visuals in your outline, so you don’t have to gather them later. 

Lean format

Lean business plan formats are high level and quick to write. They’re often only one or two pages. Similar to a  business plan infographic , they’re scannable and quick to digest, like this template: 

business plan outline

This format is often referred to as a “startup” format due to (you guessed it!) many startups using it. 

Lean business plans require less detailed outlines. You can include high-level sections and a few lines in each section covering the basics. Since the final plan will only be a page or two, you don’t need to over prepare. Nor will you need a ton of external resources. 

Lean plans don’t answer all the questions investors and stakeholders may ask, so if you go this route, make sure it’s the right choice for your business . Companies not yet ready to present to investors will typically use a lean/startup business plan format to get their rough plan on paper and share it internally with their management team. 

Here’s another example of a lean business plan format in the form of a financial plan: 

business plan outline

Your business plan outline should include all the following sections. The level of detail you choose to go into will depend on your intentions for your plan (sharing with stakeholders vs. internal use), but you’ll want every section to be clear and to the point. 

1. Executive summary

The executive summary gives a high-level description of your company, product or service. This section should include a mission statement, your company description, your business’s primary goal, and the problem it aims to solve. You’ll want to state how your business can solve the problem and briefly explain what makes you stand out (your competitive advantage).

Having an executive summary is essential to selling your business to stakeholders , so it should be as clear and concise as possible. Summarize your business in a few sentences in a way that will hook the reader (or audience) and get them invested in what you have to say next. In other words, this is your elevator pitch.

business plan outline

2. Product and services description

This is where you should go into more detail about your product or service. Your product is the heart of your business, so it’s essential this section is easy to grasp. After all, if people don’t know what you’re selling, you’ll have a hard time keeping them engaged!

Expand on your description in the executive summary, going into detail about the problem your customers face and how your product/service will solve it. If you have various products or services, go through all of them in equal detail. 

business plan outline

3. Target market and/or Market analysis

A market analysis is crucial for placing your business in a larger context and showing investors you know your industry. This section should include market research on your prospective customer demographic including location, age range, goals and motivations. 

You can even  include detailed customer personas  as a visual aid — these are especially useful if you have several target demographics. You want to showcase your knowledge of your customer, who exactly you’re selling to and how you can fulfill their needs.

Be sure to include information on the overall target market for your product, including direct and indirect competitors and how your industry is performing. If your competitors have strengths you want to mimic or weaknesses you want to exploit, this is the place to record that information. 

business plan outline

4. Organization and management

You can think of this as a “meet the team” section — this is where you should go into depth on your business’s structure from management to legal and HR. If there are people bringing unique skills or experience to the table (I’m sure there are!), you should highlight them in this section. 

The goal here is to showcase why your team is the best to run your business. Investors want to know you’re unified, organized and reliable. This is also a potential opportunity to bring more humanity to your business plan and showcase the faces behind the ideas and product. 

business plan outline

5. Marketing and sales

Now that you’ve introduced your product and team, you need to explain how you’re going to sell it. Give a detailed explanation of your sales and marketing strategy, including pricing, timelines for launching your product and advertising.

This is a major section of your plan and can even live as a separate document for your marketing and sales teams. Here are some  marketing plan templates to help you get started .

Make sure you have research or analysis to back up your decisions — if you want to do paid ads on LinkedIn to advertise your product, include a brief explanation as to why that is the best channel for your business. 

business plan outline

6. Financial projections and funding request

The end of your plan is where you’ll look to the future and how you think your business will perform financially. Your financial plan should include results from your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow projections. 

State your funding requirements and what you need to realize the business. Be extremely clear about how you plan to use the funding and when you expect investors will see returns.

If you aren’t presenting to potential investors, you can skip this part, but it’s something to keep in mind should you seek funding in the future. Covering financial projections and the previous five components is essential at the stage of business formation to ensure everything goes smoothly moving forward.

business plan outline

7. Appendix

Any extra visual aids, receipts, paperwork or charts will live here. Anything that may be relevant to your plan should be included as reference e.g. your cash flow statement (or other financial statements). You can format your appendix in whatever way you think is best — as long as it’s easy for readers to find what they’re looking for, you’ve done your job!

Typically, the best way to start your outline is to list all these high-level sections. Then, you can add bullet points outlining what will go in each section and the resources you’ll need to write them. This should give you a solid starting point for your full-length plan.

Business plan outline templates

Looking for a shortcut? Our  business plan templates  are basically outlines in a box! 

While your outline likely won’t go into as much detail, these templates are great examples of how to organize your sections.

Traditional format templates

A strong template can turn your long, dense business plan into an engaging, easy-to-read document. There are lots to choose from, but here are just a few ideas to inspire you… 

You can duplicate pages and use these styles for a traditional outline, or start with a lean outline as you build your business plan out over time:

business plan outline

Lean format templates

For lean format outlines, a simpler ‘ mind map ’ style is a good bet. With this style, you can get ideas down fast and quickly turn them into one or two-page plans. Plus, because they’re shorter, they’re easy to share with your team.

business plan outline

Writing tips to ace your business plan outline

Business plans are complex documents, so if you’re still not sure how to write your outline, don’t worry! Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when drafting your business plan outline:

  • Ask yourself why you’re writing an outline. Having a clear goal for your outline can help keep you on track as you write. Everything you include in your plan should contribute to your goal. If it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t need to be in there.
  • Keep it clear and concise. Whether you’re writing a traditional or lean format business plan, your outline should be easy to understand. Choose your words wisely and avoid unnecessary preambles or padding language. The faster you get to the point, the easier your plan will be to read.
  • Add visual aids. No one likes reading huge walls of text! Make room in your outline for visuals, data and charts. This keeps your audience engaged and helps those who are more visual learners. Psst,  infographics  are great for this.
  • Make it collaborative. Have someone (or several someones) look it over before finalizing your outline. If you have an established marketing / sales / finance team, have them look it over too. Getting feedback at the outline stage can help you avoid rewrites and wasted time down the line.

If this is your first time writing a business plan outline, don’t be too hard on yourself. You might not get it 100% right on the first try, but with these tips and the key components listed above, you’ll have a strong foundation. Remember, done is better than perfect. 

Create a winning business plan by starting with a detailed, actionable outline

The best way to learn is by doing. So go ahead, get started on your business plan outline. As you develop your plan, you’ll no doubt learn more about your business and what’s important for success along the way. 

A clean, compelling template is a great way to get a head start on your outline. After all, the sections are already separated and defined for you! 

Explore Venngage’s business plan templates  for one that suits your needs. Many are free to use and there are premium templates available for a small monthly fee. Happy outlining!

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How to create a successful annual business plan

Kaylyn McKenna

Here is what you need to know to create an effective and comprehensive annual plan for your department or company:

What is the purpose of annual planning?

An annual plan acts as a roadmap for your company. Annual planning allows you to go into a new fiscal or calendar year with specific and measurable goals set, budgets finalized, and a plan for how to measure progress on and achieve your company’s organizational and financial goals. Through this process, you develop the vision of where you hope that your company will be at the end of the year and the map of how you will get there.

You can also use annual planning to set goals and plans for individual departments or teams within an organization. Create marketing plans, human resource plans, and more to keep each segment of your business on track, reset your goals, and get your teams aligned towards common goals and initiatives. Since trends, consumer habits, and other factors change frequently, it’s good to create a fresh one-year plan each year.

Annual plans complement strategic planning while providing more short-term (one year) goals that are often tied to financial goals as well as the annual budget. Strategic plans often have more overarching goals that work to advance the company’s mission over three years or longer. Your annual plan will likely include goals that play into these longer-term goals in your company’s strategic plan.

HR Forms D

Evaluating existing and prior year goals

Start your process by evaluating your current starting point. Take time to look back at last year’s annual plan and evaluate whether you achieved your set goals or fell short in certain areas. Attempt to determine why you fell short on specific goals and what steps you could take to prevent a repeat of that issue. This will help you set realistic goals for the new year.

This is also a great time to review your company’s:

Mission statement. This is a statement that describes the purpose of your organization. What does your business do and what does it hope to accomplish?

Core values. These are the principles, beliefs, and values that your organization’s culture is built on. These values shape how you do business, and as such, should shape your annual plan.

Strategic plan. Your strategic plan should detail your business plan and long-term goals while taking market conditions into consideration. Your annual plan should complement your overall strategic plan.

Financial reports. Review the prior year’s budget reconciliation, cash flow statements, and year-end reporting. If you have access to budgets or financial forecasts for the upcoming year, review them now. If not, they’ll need to be created later in the annual planning process.

Keep all of these documents handy, as you may need to reference them as you move through the annual planning process.

Create an updated SWOT analysis

It’s also time to update or create a SWOT Analysis chart for your company. A SWOT analysis is typically depicted as a four-quadrant square with the following quadrants:

Strengths. List out the things that your company already does well and your internal strengths. Perhaps you have a large Instagram following with a strong network of influencers promoting your product. Maybe you have unique branding, patents, or technology that set you apart from competitors. This section is your highlight reel from prior years and can also include strengths like new products or developments being released in the new year.

Weaknesses. Now it’s time to consider what can be improved. List out your company’s internal areas of weakness. A good way to identify weaknesses is to look at customer feedback. Do customers like your product but complain about the processing and delivery times? A weakness can also be staffing-related such as high turnover or taking too long to fill open positions. A common marketing weakness may be lack of media mentions or ranking low in Google search results for your product or business type.

Opportunities. These are external opportunities that you can take advantage of in the coming year. Are there new trends or technologies that could boost the success of your business? Is it time to start marketing your products to Gen Z? Are there changes in government regulations or laws going into effect in 2022 that could have a positive impact on your business?

Threats. Explore potential external threats to your company’s growth and success in the coming year. Maybe the current supply chain problems mean that you will have manufacturing or delivery delays in 2022. There could also be legal changes that negatively impact your business. Threats could also come in the form of major competitors or market saturation. Knowing what may threaten your success will help you build a plan to overcome these challenges, so be thorough with your market analysis.

After creating a company-wide SWOT analysis, consider breaking things down even further and creating a SWOT analysis on specific aspects or segments of your business.

For example, a marketing SWOT chart can help you identify what you need to adjust in your marketing strategy for the new year. Many businesses, especially small businesses, may have strong Facebook and Instagram accounts but weaknesses in the area of SEO. Reaching new audiences and market segments through TikTok may be an opportunity if your business has not jumped onto the platform yet. A new year is a great time to do a SWOT and update your ideal customer or target demographics to evaluate opportunities for expansion.

Goal setting with SMART goals

It’s a good idea to start off the new year by setting goals for your employees, departments, and the company overall. This creates trackable metrics to measure your company’s success at each level throughout the year. The best way to create goals is to use the SMART goal system.

Specific. Aim to make your goals specific and to identify who will be involved in the goal. A general goal would be to increase brand awareness. Specific goals would be growing your LinkedIn following to 10,000, obtaining 10 media mentions, or ranking one the first page of Google results for a specific target keyword. Within each of those specific goals you could identify who is responsible for them; a social media manager, PR or media relations team member, an SEO consultant, or in a small business, it may just be a digital marketing manager. Regardless, it’s helpful to define who is involved and who will oversee progress.

Measurable. Define how you will measure the success of each goal. What metric will you use to track progress towards the goal?

Attainable. Your goals should be realistic. They can be somewhat ambitious, but avoid including stretch goals that are unlikely to be achieved within the year with your anticipated staffing levels, budget, and level of consumer awareness. Of course, start-ups would love to score a major investor or have their company go viral and generate a huge amount of buzz with consumers, but unless you have reason to believe either of those is on the horizon, leave out goals that depend on unrealistic or unpredictable events. Also, leave goals that will take several years for your strategic plan.

Relevant. The goals that you set for this year should be relevant to your company’s vision, mission, and long-term objectives. This is why it’s helpful to start the process by looking at your mission statement, vision, and strategic plan.

Time-bound. All goals should have a clearly defined time frame including a specific deadline date. For annual planning, the timeframe may be one year, or you can break your goals down into monthly or quarterly goals and adjust the deadlines as such.

You’ll likely end up with a decently long list of goals for your company. As mentioned in the Specific criteria, breaking down your goals and defining who is responsible for them is important. Try to create goals that span the major business functions of your company such as product, operations, marketing, HR, and leadership . Set company-wide goals and then break them down by teams and later by individual contributors to ensure that everyone knows what goals they need to accomplish in order to help the business meet its overall yearly goals.

Budgeting and financial considerations

An important aspect of annual planning is financial planning. A good business plan should take financial constraints, budgets, and financial goals into consideration and plan accordingly. If you are a start-up and plan to go through a round of fundraising or have other major changes such as going public with an IPO, include those in your annual planning.

Your annual plan should include financial projections for the year. These projections will help you plan for financing needs, changes in cash flow, and evaluate the best timing for new projects or hiring. You’ll want to create sales forecasts to project your expected income. It’s also wise to forecast your anticipated expenses for things like labor, materials. supplies, and overhead.

You’ll also want to verify that you will be able to allocate the funds needed to accomplish the SMART goals that you created earlier. At this point, you may need to revise some of your goals to ensure that they are achievable within your financial constraints. Those that require a larger budget may need to be scaled down or saved for next year.

Contingency planning

Hopefully everything will go as planned, but it’s always good to have a contingency plan in place in case something goes awry. After all, we’ve all seen how unexpected challenges can derail business operations over the past two years.

Plan for potential emergencies or alternate scenarios. Does your annual business plan rely on covid conditions improving in 2022? Create a contingency plan in case there are more hiccups than expected during reopening or the return to the office.

Consider how your business could best handle supply chain issues, unexpected cash flow problems, and major IT or security concerns. If your headquarters is in an area prone to natural disasters such as wildfires or hurricanes, you should always have a plan in place for the safety of your staff, files, as well as assets that would be difficult to replace.

Putting it all together

There are a number of annual business plan templates available online that you can use to craft your final report. Larger companies often use specialized software for their annual business plan. If you plan to use the goals created during the annual planning process for performance management , a software solution may be best so that department leads and individual employees can track their goals throughout the year.

The report should open with an executive summary, although this is actually the last piece that you’ll typically want to write. The executive summary should act as an introduction to and a summary of the full report. Tailor it to your audience depending on whether the plan will be shared with employees, investors, or others.

A description of the product or services including new products, the team, and the company at present may also be included.

Then comes the meat of the report where you explain the goals you’ve created and your plan for achieving and measuring them. Your full report may be separated into marketing planning, financial planning, HR planning for organizational improvement, and other relevant sub-sections. This is where the zoomed-in SWOT analyses and department-level SMART goals will come in handy.

The report should leave the reader with a clear picture of what you will achieve and how you will do it.


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Use This Simple Business Plan Outline to Organize Your Plan

Male and female entrepreneur sitting at a table with two other team members. Reviewing a business plan outline to discuss the main components they need to cover.

12 min. read

Updated October 27, 2023

When starting a business, having a well-thought-out business plan prepared is necessary for success . It helps guide your strategy and prepares you to overcome the obstacles and risks associated with entrepreneurship. In short, a business plan makes you more likely to succeed.

However, like everything in business, starting is often the hardest part. What information do you need? How in-depth should each section be? How should the plan be structured?

All good questions that you can answer by following this business plan outline. 

  • What is a business plan outline?

A business plan outline is similar to a template for a business plan . It lists the common sections that all business plans should include.

A traditional business plan typically includes an executive summary, an overview of your products and services, thorough market research, a competitive analysis, a marketing and sales strategy, operational and company details, financial projections, and an appendix. 

  • Why is a business plan outline important?

Starting with a business plan outline helps ensure that you’re including all of the necessary information for a complete business plan. 

But, depending on what you intend to do with your plan, you may not need all of this information right away. If you’re going to speak with investors or pursue funding, then yes, you’ll need to include everything from this outline. But, if you’re using your plan to test an idea or help run your business, you may want to opt for a one-page plan . This is a simpler and faster method that is designed to be updated and used day-to-day. 

If you’re unsure of which plan is right for you, check out our guide explaining the differences and use cases for each plan type . 

  • 10 key sections in a standard business plan outline

No matter the type of business plan you create, these are the ten basic sections you should include. Be sure to download your free business plan template to start drafting your own plan as you work through this outline.

Business Plan Outline Example Graphic with 10 unique components. A standard business plan outline will include the executive summary, products and services, market analysis, competition, marketing and sales, operations, milestones and metrics, company overview, financial plan, and appendix sections.

1. Executive summary

While it may appear first, it’s best to write your executive summary last. It’s a brief section that highlights the high-level points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan.

Summarize the problem you are solving for customers, your solution, the target market, your team that’s building the business, and financial forecast highlights. Keep things as brief as possible and entice your audience to learn more about your company. 

Keep in mind, this is the first impression your plan and business will make. After looking over your executive summary, your reader is either going to throw your business plan away or keep reading. So make sure you spend the time to get it just right.

What’s your biggest business challenge right now?

2. products and services.

Start the products and services section of your business plan by describing the problem you are solving for your customer. Next, describe how you solve that problem with your product or service. 

If you’ve already made some headway selling your solution, detail that progress here—this is called “traction”. You can also describe any intellectual property or patents that you have if that’s an important part of your business.

3. Market analysis 

You need to know your target market —the types of customers you are looking for—and how it’s changing.

Use the market analysis section of your business plan to discuss the size of your market—how many potential customers exist for your business—and if your potential customers can be segmented into different groups, such as age groups or some other demographic.

4. Competition

Describe your competition in this section. If you don’t have any direct competitors, describe what your customers currently do to solve the problem that your product fixes. 

If you have direct competition, detail what your strengths and weaknesses are in comparison, and how you’ll differentiate from what is already available. 

5. Marketing and sales

Use this business plan section to outline your marketing and sales plan —how you’ll reach your target customers and what the process will be for selling to them.

You’ll want to cover your market position, marketing activities, sales channels, and your pricing strategy. This will likely evolve over time, but it’s best to include anything that clearly details how you will sell and promote your products and services. 

6. Operations

What’s included in the operations section really depends on the type of business you are planning for. If your business has a physical location or other facilities, you’ll want to describe them here. If your business relies heavily on technology or specific equipment or tools, you should describe that technology or equipment here.

You can also use this section to describe your supply chain if that’s an important aspect of your business. 

7. Milestones and metrics

In a business, milestones are important goals that you are setting for your business. They may be important launch dates, or a timeline of when you’ll get regulatory approval—if that’s something you need for your business. Use this section of your plan to describe those milestones and the roadmap you are planning to follow.

You can also describe important metrics for your business, such as the number of sales leads you expect to get each month or the percentage of leads that will become customers.

8. Company overview and team

The company and team section of your plan is an overview of who you are.

It should describe the organization of your business, and the key members of the management team. It should also provide any historical background about your business. For example, you’ll describe when your company was founded, who the owners are, what state your company is registered in and where you do business, and when/if your company was incorporated.

Be sure to include summaries of your key team members’ backgrounds and experience—these should act like brief resumes—and describe their functions with the company. You should also include any professional gaps you intend to fill with new employees.

9. Financial plan and forecasts

Your financial plan should include a sales forecast, profit and loss, cash flow projections, and balance sheet, along with a brief description of the assumptions you’re making with your projections.

If you are raising money or taking out loans, you should highlight the money you need to launch the business. This part should also include a use of funds report—basically an overview of how the funding will be used in business operations. 

And while it’s not required, it may be wise to briefly mention your exit strategy . This doesn’t need to be overly detailed, just a general idea of how you may eventually want to exit your business. 

10. Appendix

The end of your business plan should include any additional information to back up specific elements of your plan. More detailed financial statements, resumes for your management team, patent documentation, credit histories, marketing examples, etc. 

  • Detailed business plan outline

If you’re looking for greater insight into what goes into specific planning sections, check out the following outline for a business plan. It can help you develop a detailed business plan or provide guidance as to what may be missing from your current plan. 

Keep in mind that every business plan will look a bit different because every business is unique. After all, business planning is to help you be more successful, so focus on the sections that are most beneficial to your business and skip the sections that aren’t useful or don’t apply. 

To help, we’ve marked sections that are truly optional with an *.

Executive summary

Company purpose / mission statement.

A very brief description of what your business does and/or what its mission is.

Problem We Solve

A summary of the problem you are solving and an identifiable need in the market you are filling.

Our Solution

A description of the product or service you will provide to solve the problem.

Target Market

A defined customer base who will most likely purchase the product or service.

Briefly describe who is behind the business.

Financial Summary

A short overview of revenue goals and profitability timeline.

If you’ve already started selling your product or service, highlight important initial details here.

Funding Needed*

If you are raising money for your business, describe how much capital you need.

Products & Services

Problem worth solving.

A thorough description of the problem or pain points you intend to solve for your customer base. 

A thorough description of your proposed product or service that alleviates the problem for your customer base.

Describe any initial evidence that your customers are excited to spend money on your solution. Initial sales or signed contracts are good signs.

Intellectual Property/Patents*

If this is important for your business, outline it here.

Regulatory Requirements*

If government approval is required for your business, explain the details and timeline.

Future Products and Services*

What products and services might you offer in the future once your initial products and services are successful?

Market Size & Segments

How many potential customers do you have and what potential groups of customers are separated by specific characteristics?

Market Trends*

How consumers in your target market tend to act including purchasing habits, financial trends, and any other relevant factors.

Market Growth*

The perceived potential increase or decrease in the size of your target market.

Industry Analysis*

If your industry is changing or adjusting over time, describe those changes.

Key Customers*

If your business relies on certain important customers, describe who they are here.

Future Markets*

A snapshot of the potential market based on the last few sections and how your business strategy works within it.


Current alternatives.

A list of potential competitors. Identifying the competition isn’t always obvious and it may take some digging on your part.

Our Advantages

The strategic advantage(s) that makes your target market more likely to choose you over the competition. 

Barriers to Entry*

If there’s anything that makes it more difficult for other people to start competing with you, describe those barriers.

Marketing & Sales

Market positioning.

Where do your products or services fit into the market? Are you the low-price leader or the premium option?

Unique value proposition*

What’s special about your offering that makes your customers want to choose it over the competition.

Marketing Plan

An outline of your marketing and advertising strategy including costs, advertising channels, and goals.

How do you sell your product or service? Self-serve or with a team of sales representatives?

Pricing Strategy*

Describe your pricing and how it compares to alternatives in the market.


Describe how your product gets in front of customers. Are you selling in stores and online? Which retailers?

SWOT Analysis*

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Location & Facilities

If you have a physical presence, describe where and what it is.

What technology is crucial for your business success?

Equipment & Tools

If special equipment or tools are needed for your business, describe them here.

Sourcing and fulfillment*

If you purchase your products or parts for your products from somewhere else, describe that sourcing and supply chain.

Partners and Resources*

If you have key partners that you work with to make your business a success, describe who they are and what services or products they provide.

Milestones and metrics

A detailed roadmap of specific goals and objectives you plan to achieve will help you manage and steer your business.

Key metrics

Performance measurements that help you gauge the overall performance and health of your business.

Company overview and team

Organizational structure.

An overview of the legal structure of your business. 

Company history and ownership

A summary of your company’s history and how it relates to planning your business.

Management team

The team that is starting or running your business and why they are uniquely qualified to make the business a success.

Management team gaps

Key positions that your business will need to fill to make it successful.

Financial plan and forecast

Projected profit and loss.

How much money you will bring in by selling products and/or services and how much profit you will make or lose after accounting for costs and expenses.

Projected cash flow

How and when cash moves in and out of your business. This also includes your overall cash position.

Projected balance sheet

Expected balances for business assets, liabilities, and equity.

Use of funds

If you are raising money either through loans or investment, explain how funds will be used. This is typically meant to be shared with investors or lenders.

Exit strategy

A brief explanation of how you intend to eventually exit from your business. This could include selling the business, going public, transitioning the business to a family member/employee, etc.

A repository for any additional information, including charts and graphs, to support your business plan.

Business plan outline FAQ

How do you organize your business plan?

There’s no real established order to business plans, aside from keeping the Executive Summary at the top. As long as you have all of the main business plan components, then the order should reflect your goals. 

If this is meant solely for your personal use, lay it out as a roadmap with similar sections grouped together for easy reference. If you’re pitching this to potential investors, lead with the stronger sections to emphasize the pitch. Then if you’re unsure of what order makes sense, then just stick to the outline in this article.

Should you include tables and charts in your business plan?

Every business plan should include bar charts and pie charts to illustrate the numbers. It’s a simple way for you, your team, and investors to visualize and digest complex financial information.

Cash flow is the single most important numerical analysis in a business plan, and a standard cash flow statement or table should never be missing. Most standard business plans also include a sales forecast and income statement (also called profit and loss), and a balance sheet.

How long should your business plan be?

There’s no perfect length for a business plan. A traditional business plan can be anywhere from 10 to 50 pages long depending on how much detail you include in each section. However, as we said before unless you intend to pursue funding, you likely don’t need a lengthy business plan at first.

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Content Author: Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software , a co-founder of Borland International, and a recognized expert in business planning. He has an MBA from Stanford and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. Today, Tim dedicates most of his time to blogging, teaching and evangelizing for business planning.

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6 steps for operations leaders to build a better annual plan

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An effective annual plan is critical to keep your teams, departments, and company together, working toward the same goals. 

As an operations leader, you oversee how your organization runs its business. By reviewing how your company performed in the past year, you and your operations teams can identify which strategies worked—and which fell short—to build an effective annual plan designed to maximize the impact of every department.

Here’s what you need to know about building a successful annual plan.

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Annual plans drive clarity and accountability 

With an annual plan, departments can start the year off with a strong understanding of the overall vision and how their work contributes to larger business goals. Without an overarching plan, it can be difficult to understand how a specific project or initiative moves the business forward. 

Clear goals establish benchmarks for project progress

Your annual plan shouldn’t be a set-it-and-forget-it goal. Rather, periodically check project progress against your annual plan so you can see how your operations teams are doing. Doing this throughout the year will not only give you a sense of how your teams are tracking towards their overall goals—it can also help you understand if they’re ahead or behind schedule, and adjust accordingly. 

If you notice that a specific initiative is not on track to meet the strategic goals outlined in your company’s annual plan, you can use this data to pivot and double down on—or divest from—specific initiatives. 

Establish concrete goals for a specific time period

The more specific your goal, the more concrete your action plan. Providing detailed and specific goals gives your employees a clear understanding of what work to prioritize and what deliverables they’re responsible for. 

Make sure your goals are measurable, as well. Clear KPIs and OKRs demonstrate how tangible work connects back to larger business goals. 

6 steps for annual business planning

The annual planning process often takes place near the end of the calendar year or at the end of your company’s fiscal year. As you get closer to annual planning time, consider these six steps of the annual planning process. 

1. Reflect on previous strategies—and develop new ones

Before your business can start planning for next year, ask yourself, your stakeholders, and your operations teams: How did we perform against the strategies laid out in last year’s annual plan?

No matter the answer, use these recent data points to steer your decision-making when building your next annual plan. That could mean doubling down on big programs or initiatives born in the last year—or going a different direction entirely. 

A well-built annual plan factors in reflection on what did and didn’t work—and improves off of it.

2. Transform your business’s greatest needs into goals

After reflecting on last year’s performance, hone in on the most significant growth and improvement opportunities. Use this for guidance as you construct company- and department-wide goals.

It helps to have a consistent framework for goals across the business, to accelerate the goal-setting process and ensure greater understanding of goals within all corners of the organization.

The exact goal framework you use will depend on your company, but a few good ones to consider are: 

The Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method , which helps your business set goals using the framework “I will [objective] as measured by [key result].”

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) , which use leading and lagging indicators to track how you’re performing towards your goals. 

The SMART goals framework , which helps ensure the goals your organization sets are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

3. Create an action plan to maximize impact

The next step is to create an action plan for your business to achieve the goals outlined in step three. Your action plan should outline the list of steps your teams need to take to accomplish their goals. Think of an action plan like the map you’ll use to arrive at your final destination. 

From there, delegate the work laid out in the action plan to specific teams and departments. Connecting the work that your operations teams complete to larger company goals makes it easier for each team to understand the impact their work has on the business.

4. Ensure the annual plan is everyone’s plan

Not everyone can be involved in building the annual plan for your company—but every team member should feel like their work is seen and accounted for in the plan. 

As the annual plan comes together, meet with leaders and employees across the business to ensure varying perspectives and priorities are factored into the final product. This step is critical for getting buy-in and generating excitement across the business. 

You don’t want to be in a position where you’re just telling everyone what the annual plan is—you want to bring every department along for the journey and get them excited about what they’re working toward in the coming year. Consider conducting a presentation to not only share the company plan and why this plan matters, but also to outline timelines and how departments will use it to achieve the company’s goals. 

5. Execute your strategy, monitor metrics, and adjust as needed

At this point, your organization’s annual plan is completed, but nothing is ever fully set in stone. As the year progresses, make sure you’re continually monitoring success metrics and KPIs. If the results of your strategies are not behaving as you expected them to, it’s important to adjust so your business will still hit the goals outlined in your annual plan. 

6. Repeat again for next year 

At the end of the year, it’s time to start the process over again. Align with your strategic plan, look back at the past year’s results, and create another plan to achieve those business goals. 

What does a good annual plan include?

Effective annual plans should contain components that are essential for completing the work outlined in the plan itself, and context for why this plan will be effective. Here are a few examples of components you would find in an annual plan:

Reports of the previous year’s performance: Your company’s annual plan for the upcoming year should be based on the data from the previous year’s performance. This provides context for your teams as to what they’re capable of doing within one calendar year.

Budget estimates: A common KPI investors track is return on investment (ROI). Knowing how much money different teams are spending makes it easier for your organization to calculate ROI and adjust strategies. Providing budget estimations also gives departments the context they need for the amount of resources they have at their disposal for the year.

Clear and specific goals: Annual plans should use the SMART goal framework so that your company can easily measure progress and report back on it later. 

Important milestones: Your business can accomplish a lot of work within one year—but to do that, each department needs to know how they're doing. Milestones operate like checkpoints, giving teams and departments a sense of direction and an idea of how they're pacing against annual goals.

Project buffers and contingency plans: Unexpected things happen all the time, and it’s better to be prepared than caught off guard. Develop a contingency plan for how your organization will get back on track in the event of an unexpected roadblock. Also set aside some resource buffers, such as a small portion of your company’s budget, to accommodate for unexpected expenses.

Gear up for next year

After a year of hard work, it’s time to reflect back and plan for more great things in the future. While annual planning takes time, collaboration, and thoughtful strategy, the efforts show in the form of your business success. 

Still have questions? We have answers. 

What is annual planning.

Annual planning is the act of developing a strategy for the upcoming year based on the learnings from the current year’s performance. This provides an opportunity for your operations teams to iterate on strategy from the past year and incorporate those learnings into your upcoming plans. 

In essence, your annual plan should contain: 

The goals your business needs to achieve

A strategy for how your organization will hit those goals

Clear tactics for what each department will work on

Any important milestones that benchmark progress

What’s the difference between annual planning and strategic planning? 

Strategic planning and annual planning are both important business planning methods that help set your team's strategy for the future. However, the scale of these planning strategies are different.

Strategic planning is the long-term strategy for your business. This encompasses a basic roadmap of how business should develop within three to five years. You will use your strategic planning process to inform your annual plan. 

Annual planning represents all of the goals and strategies that you want your business to achieve, similar to a strategic goal. The main difference here is that an annual plan only encompasses one calendar year, instead of a few years. If you think of it like a pie, annual planning is just one slice of the larger strategic plan pie.

When should your operations teams start annual planning?

Begin your annual planning process during Q4, so you can begin day one of Q1 with your plan in hand. If that’s not an option, do your annual planning as close to the start of the new year as possible. 

There are two benefits to planning earlier. First off, you’ll beat the end-of-year crunch, and avoid the stress that traditionally comes with the end of the year. Additionally, if you run an efficient annual planning process with your leadership team, your operations teams will still be free to execute on high-impact projects throughout Q4.

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Free Annual Plan Templates: Excel, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Google Slides

By Kate Eby | January 17, 2024

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We’ve collected the top annual plan templates in Excel, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Google Slides. Use the templates to build a 12-month strategy that streamlines the annual planning process based on the company’s vision for goal-setting. 

Included on this page, you’ll find an  annual plan slide template , a  yearly planning template with Gantt chart , an  annual planning template with a calendar , and more. You’ll also learn about the  differences between an annual and a strategic plan , as well as  how to create an annual plan .

Annual Plan Templates vs. Strategic Plan

An annual plan and a strategic plan serve different purposes for building and organizing a growth strategy. A strategic plan focuses on a company’s direction and long-term goals. The annual plan defines actionable steps to achieve yearly goals. 

Review the matrix below to understand the differences between an annual plan template and a strategic plan template.

Simple Annual Plan Template

Simple Annual Plan Template

Download a Simple Annual Plan Template for

Excel | Microsoft Word

Ease your way into annual planning with this simple template that organizes any company’s annual goals, objectives, timelines, and budget. Complete the  Overview, Strategies, and  Global Priorities sections to build a foundation for goal-setting. Then use the table to list objectives, timelines, owners, budgets, and statuses. Reuse this template year after year to save time and to streamline the annual planning process.

Annual Plan Slide Template

Annual Plan Slide Template

Download an Annual Plan Slide Template for 

PowerPoint | Google Slides  

Use this annual plan template to outline and present a high-level one-year plan to stakeholders. Objectives are organized by quarters, so it’s easy to follow their timelines. Add more slides, including the company’s marketing plan, sales plan, or strategic plan to create a comprehensive presentation of the company’s overarching goals.

Yearly Planning Excel Template with Gantt Chart

Yearly Planning Template with Gantt Chart

Download the Yearly Planning Template with Gantt Chart in Excel  

Use this yearly planning template with a Gantt chart to list annual objectives. This template is similar to the simple annual plan, but adds a Gantt chart to provide a visual representation of each deliverable’s timeline. Enter the start date and due date for each objective. The template will automatically populate the dates into a Gantt chart making it easy to track each objective’s progress and ensure the plan stays on course.

Annual Planning Template with Calendar

Annual Planning Template with Calendar

Download an Annual Planning Template with Calendar 

Excel | Microsoft Word  

Track important deadlines with this annual planning calendar template. This template has all the features of the simple annual plan template but adds a calendar. The calendar format provides space to enter details under any day of the year. Promote timeline transparency and guarantee deliverables meet their due dates by sharing this template with your team.

How to Create an Annual Plan

Create an annual plan by first reviewing the previous year’s wins and losses to determine where to focus the upcoming year’s efforts. Brainstorm annual goals, list the actions to achieve them, and assign the action steps to team members. 

Start drafting an annual plan in Q4 to prepare for the upcoming year. Follow the steps below to create an effective annual plan that drives revenue and growth to any business.   

  • Review the Previous Year Meet with stakeholders and review the previous year’s plan and successes. Identify areas that need improvement. This review process will help determine where to focus efforts next year. You can skip this step if it’s the company’s first time creating an annual plan.
  • Download an Annual Plan Template Download the simple annual plan template. Using a template will help ensure you don’t miss any vital sections of the plan.
  • Enter the Company’s Vision Statement The vision statement describes the company’s long-term aspirations, so keep it at the forefront of the decision-making and goal-setting processes.  
  • Brainstorm Annual Goals Collaborate with stakeholders and determine what you want to achieve in the upcoming year. Use last year’s wins and losses to set realistic goals that align with the company’s vision statement.
  • List Objectives List the action steps required to meet the goals. Categorize them into sections, such as marketing, financial, customer experience, product, etc. 
  • Set Timelines Set a start date and end date for each objective. Annual plans are often broken down into quarters, but it’s not uncommon to set monthly and weekly timelines. 
  • Determine a Budget Determine a budget based on financial projections. This step helps allocate resources teams or departments will have available to them, which will make planning more realistic.
  • Identify Metrics Decide what metrics to use for tracking and monitoring results. The data these provide is important for measuring if objectives are being met.
  • Assign Responsibility Assign a team, department, or individual to each deliverable to ensure nothing is missed.  
  • Share with Team Members Share the annual plan with team members to create alignment and build motivation around working toward specific goals.

Elements in an Annual Plan

Elements in an annual plan include everything necessary to outline a comprehensive plan for growing any company. Here is a list of elements found in a general annual plan:     

  • Budget: The funds allocated to each goal or objective.
  • KPIs:  The tools and metrics used to measure the success of the objectives.
  • Objectives: Objectives are the action steps to achieve the goals.
  • Owner: The owner is the team, department, or individual responsible for completing an objective.
  • SMART Goals:  This represents a type of goal-setting where each should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Learn more about  setting SMART goals .
  • Strategies:  List the marketing strategies, operational strategies, and sales strategies to provide a comprehensive framework that drives coordinated efforts.
  • Timeline:  The length of time dedicated to each deliverable. Deliverable timelines are typically quarters, but they can also be monthly or weekly.
  • Values and Mission Statement: These document the foundation for decision making and goal setting.

Different Types Of Annual Plans

Different types of annual plans support specific areas such as budgeting, marketing, operations, and more. Choose an annual plan from the list below that best fits your company’s needs and growth strategy.

Free Annual Sales Report Templates

Annual Sales Report Spreadsheet Template

Use an  annual sales report template to track yearly sales activities and trends.

Free Annual Business Budget Templates

Annual Business Budget Template

Use an  annual business budget template to evaluate business expenditures vs. revenue over a one-year period.

Free Operational Plan Templates

Basic Operational Plan Template

Use an  operational plan template to lay out specific actions and resources needed to reach certain milestones.

Annual Report Template

Nonprofit Annual Report Template

Use this  annual report template to document the company’s yearly accomplishments, impact stories, financial data, and donor list.

Annual Marketing Report

Annual Marketing Report Template

Use this  annual marketing report template to document the total projects delivered, KPIs, and marketing financial overview.

Create Your Annual Plan in Smartsheet and Get Gantt Chart and Calendar Views

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The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

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The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Strategic Annual Plan

November 19, 2021 - 10 min read

Maria Waida

The first step to achieving goals is to come up with an annual plan. A strategic annual plan makes it easier for managers, team leaders, and company owners to execute their vision for growth. Not only does creating an annual plan give you time to reflect on past accomplishments, but it’s also a great way to make ideas actionable. Keep reading to learn more about what annual planning is and how you can create one that has a significant impact on your organization. 

What is an annual plan?

An annual business plan is a set of goals and milestones that guide a company's operations for the year ahead. It helps guide employees and investors in the right direction. For many people, this year's new year begins with a review of their previous year. They then set goals and make plans for the coming year.

Annual planning is a combination of two other important elements: a business plan and an annual plan. 

A business plan is a document that a company or organization uses to set goals and improve performance. It's similar to a belt-tightening exercise.

An annual plan is a strategy that a company uses to set goals and expectations for the coming year . It helps employees visualize where they are headed and how they can get there. The annual plan also sets out a company's long-term goals and helps guide how it will reach these targets.

An annual business plan helps workers set goals and holds them accountable for achieving those goals for the upcoming 12 months.

Then, there’s strategic planning. A strategic planning process helps an organization identify its mission, vision, and strategic goals.

The strategic plan combined with the annual business plan are two key components of a successful strategy. The former provides a framework for the company's goals and intentions, while the latter provides the necessary tools and processes to execute those goals.

Overview of a strategic annual plan

Here is what is typically included in a strategic annual plan: 

  • Analysis of past performance. Reviewing your goals can help you identify areas where you can improve and become more productive.
  • Budget estimations. Financial projections are often included in budget planning. They help you plan for the coming year and identify the right course of action for your projects.
  • A clear vision statement. Expectations must be clearly stated, as well as responsibilities and clear OKRs. Having these elements in place can help keep teams on track and motivated.
  • SMART goals . Set specific, measurable goals and deadlines for your company. This will help you measure how far you've come in terms of meeting the key results.
  • Buffer room. A well-written annual plan should include space for emergencies as well. Having a contingency plan can help avoid unexpected expenses.

In a nutshell: the annual plan is a strategy used to plan and execute the organization's goals and objectives. It is usually composed of three phases which are strategy, projects, and timing.

The importance of an annual plan

Annual planning helps define what's important to achieving goals and driving performance. An annual plan also helps keep the workforce united and can be used to motivate and retain employees.

A well-written annual plan can help you set the direction for your company while providing the team with a sense of direction.

Examples of annual strategic planning

Here are some ideas to get you started with your own strategic annual plan: 

1. Coca Cola HBC 2020 Integrated Annual Plan  

Coca-Cola's 246-page report details all aspects of their business. They start by celebrating their wins with statistics. They also include photos of actual customers and partners. Their CEO writes a letter to their stakeholders sharing their biggest accomplishments over the past year. 

Then they go through their vision. Throughout the strategy, you can see that they are using the pillar method for goal planning. Key areas of focus include leveraging existing business, continuing to win the beverage marketplace, making competitive investments, focusing on employee growth, and expanding their licensing.

The overall report is designed well and is reminiscent of a well-crafted white paper. Because the CEO's letter was addressed specifically to stakeholders, we know that this is a tool for increasing investment as well as project planning. Because of this, a lot of the content within it answers the question, “why should I invest in you?”

Throughout the rest of the annual plan, each pillar gets its own section. At the top of each section, there is a list of accomplishments from the past year and priorities for the coming year. They also summarize risks, stakeholders, and KPIs. This makes the packet easy to skim but also easy to remember.

2. pep+ (PepsiCo Positive)

PepsiCo recently announced that their new 2022 initiative will revolve around “the planet and people.” While this is a long-term process for the brand, the launch will mark the core of their strategic annual plan for the foreseeable future. Their keywords include positivity (hence the “+”), sustainability, and “a fundamental transformation of what we do and how we do it.” 

On their dedicated landing page, readers can dig deeper into their annual plan. Also well designed, this presentation shows what the future looks like for PepsiCo through refreshed branding and imagery. Symbols such as smiling farmers and healthy, green fields drive the message home. 

To achieve these new goals, the company will focus on supply chains, inspiring consumers, and driving sustainable change among all its product lines. 

They link several documents throughout the report, including a comprehensive list of goals which is a great example for your own annual plan template inspiration. This three-page chart names pillars on the left-hand side and targets or actions with due dates on the right. 

If their goals have numerical metrics, they include data from past years, along with key benchmarks they hope to reach by the end of the year or in the future. Otherwise, their goals are measured in actions. 

For example, as part of their sustainability pillar, they plan to “develop and deploy disruptive sustainable packaging materials and new models for convenient foods and beverages.” This task is specific and clear, despite the fact that it’s not as quantifiable as some of their other goals. 

3. Nestlé Global’s Annual Report 

Their annual plan is not public but they have shared an annual report on past wins from 2020. In addition to a financial review, Nestlé also shares a new strategy. Starting with important facts and figures the company highlights statistics from organic sales growth and more. They also visualize data about which types of products are selling most and where in the world the company has grown over the past year.

As Coca-Cola did, Nestlé also includes a letter to shareholders. They discuss ways in which they plan to grow in the coming year. This includes what product areas they will invest more in and where they will pause or halt efforts. They also emphasize a new product area which will be the focus moving forward in the short term. In this section, Nestlé touches on long-term strategies and how these short-term goals will affect them. 

In general, their annual report focuses on the word innovation. It mostly has to do with developing new products and revamping old ones. Like PepsiCo, they are using sustainability as a pillar as well as e-commerce.

The report goes on to elaborate on each strategy individually. Nestlé lists action steps and provides clear evidence as to why each is important. They also highlight statistics for growth in key areas and name even bigger numbers for where they hope to be in a year. 

Throughout the report, they include images from ad campaigns that demonstrate the change they wish to continue implementing as part of their marketing plan . Again, branding imagery makes a big difference when creating your own strategic annual plan. It sets the tone for what's written on the page and can help visual learners better understand what you're going for at a glance. 

Although Nestle's strategic annual plan is designed more like a white paper than a chart, this layout is the most magazine-like by far. It serves as a great example of how you can organize ideas on the page in a way that is interesting and attention-grabbing.

One of the most notable aspects of their annual plan is the Materiality Matrix. They use this chart to visualize key areas of interest and prioritize them according to stakeholder values. Within each box, they’ve listed bullet points of business areas this value will impact. It’s a great method for summarizing goals that cover a wide variety of departments and business engagements. 

Understanding strategic planning best practices

Everyone has their own way of thinking about annual plans. Regardless of what you’re trying to achieve, the following strategic planning best practices will help you get there: 

1. Use SMART goals

A variety of SMART goals are commonly used to help guide and motivate people. They help set realistic benchmarks and are designed to help teams achieve success. It will also help you plan for the ups and downs of your business. To reach your goals, divide them up into smaller goals and set specific deadlines. These goals will help you measure how successful you are at reaching them.

2. Include contingencies

For example, having an emergency financial reservoir is a good idea to prevent a potential financial disaster. It can help your company navigate slower seasons while still sticking to your annual plan. 

3. Build in flexibility 

Even minor shifts in external factors can significantly impact on how effective you are at creating and implementing your strategic plan. Never forget that, while we are creating our annual plans in a vacuum, the world will undoubtedly go through more changes this coming year. Even though we can’t predict the future, we can make our plans foolproof by being flexible now. 

What is an annual plan template?

An annual plan template is a document or tool that can be utilized repeatedly to outline the various stages involved in creating an annual plan.

Its purpose is to provide a clear understanding of the annual planning process by specifying the actions to be taken and the timeline to follow in order to develop an effective business plan. By utilizing the annual planning template, individuals or organizations can ensure that they have a systematic approach to reaching specific goals, and can enhance the quality of their business plans.

Using Wrike to assist with an annual plan template

Wrike’s project management software can help you keep track of all your company-related information in one place. It can also streamline your work and help you stay on track. It can also help you keep track of your annual plans and develop a strong strategy.

Start by using last year as a reference. By understanding the issues that affected the previous year, a company can improve its performance in the following year.

Draw reports of time spent per project and see where your team went over or underestimated. Then look at which tasks tend to drain resources the most. Determine whether or not the ROI is worth it moving forward. 

Next, set realistic goals. Reflect on last year's statistics from Wrike Reports and put together a plan with a realistic metric for improvement. 

After, break down big plans into individual steps. Start by focusing on the business goals of the company then outline your key objectives that align with those. Make sure that everyone knows who is responsible for executing and approving each task. 

Draft a Gantt chart that includes each step broken down into relevant tasks. Remember to add deadlines to every action to keep teammates accountable and keep to realistic deadlines.

Then, delegate tasks according to strengths and weaknesses. Use project reporting and individual job performance to assess team members. You may find that those with specialized talent are being tasked with unskilled work when they could help solve major problems elsewhere. 

Don’t forget to involve the whole team. Start early, plan ahead, and keep everyone involved in the process. Doing so will make it easier to overcome obstacles once the projects are underway. 

Additionally, ask them for direct feedback on your ideas for the next year. You will learn from the front line what obstacles they may be facing that will affect the timeline. 

Another bonus of getting your team involved is that it creates more transparency in the workplace. Using Wrike as a part of the process is not only helpful, but the team also keeps learning how to use the system more efficiently as they go. 

Having a work management platform that enables you to plan and execute annual plans is a good idea. Plus, it's also a good idea to use tools that allow you to collaborate and manage complex processes. Create an effective annual plan today with Wrike’s free trial . 

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Maria Waida

Maria is a freelance content writer who specializes in blogging and other marketing materials for enterprise software businesses.

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Annual Planning: Plan Like a Pro In 5 Steps (+ Template)

annual business plan outline

Get ready to take your strategic annual planning game to the next level! This process is essential for companies who want to set a clear direction for the future and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. 

But, let's be real, executing a killer strategic plan is easier said than done. That's why we're here to help you. 

In this article, we'll dive into the nitty-gritty of annual planning and cover all the tips and tricks you need to know. From involving the right people to communicating your plan like a pro, we've got you covered. 

We'll also share some common pitfalls to watch out for and provide real-life examples to help bring it all to life. 

So, whether you're a seasoned planning pro or just starting out, get ready to learn how to make your annual strategic planning a total success!

In this article, you’ll discover:

What Is Annual Planning?

  • The Benefits of The Annual Planning Process

5 Steps To Build A Highly Effective Annual Plan

The only annual planning template you need in 2023.

  • 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Conducting Annual Strategic Planning

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Annual planning is about turning long-term business goals into short-term action plans for the year ahead. It contains insights from past performance and a clear roadmap with a timeline. This yearly plan should be realistic and achievable, while also being ambitious enough to move the business forward.

Annual planning is your opportunity to take the previous year’s wins, knocks, and lessons and adjust your strategy to help your business grow consistently and become better.

Boilerplate definition aside, imagine if IBM still focused on building business-centric PCs, BMW still only made airplane engines, or Tata focused on producing steel. They wouldn’t be the companies they are today.

Annual planning and regular reviews help you proactively adapt to changes and steer your organization in the right direction to get the business results you want by the end of the year or toward your vision in the future.

The Benefits Of The Annual Planning Process

Whether it’s your IT, supply chain , pricing, marketing, operations , or sales strategy—improving, pivoting, or optimizing your annual planning approach from one year to the next year is non-negotiable. The annual planning process will help you assess the effectiveness of your business strategies and make adjustments to keep up with customer needs and market trends.

An effective annual planning process for the new year can offer:

  • Strategic clarity: Annual strategic planning helps define and align goals, mission, and values, leading to more focused and effective decision-making across all levels of the organization. This in turn sets a clear and consistent direction for future initiatives, maximizing the organization's potential to achieve success.
  • Focus: By regularly reviewing and updating its strategic plan , your organization stays focused on long-term objectives instead of being constantly sidetracked by day-to-day operations.
  • Benchmark performance: An annual strategic planning process helps you measure and track progress on key strategic initiatives , and evaluate the progress made compared to last year.
  • Gaps and opportunities: By regularly reviewing your strategic plan, your teams will identify gaps and opportunities for improvement and innovation, which can help you stay ahead of your competition.
  • Resource allocation: By aligning your strategic plan with your budget, you can allocate resources that will support your goals and cut costs from misaligned initiatives.
  • Engagement and buy-in: Involving key stakeholders in the strategic planning process will increase engagement and buy-in across your organization, leading to a more cohesive and motivated team.

A clear and execution-ready annual plan that focuses on the big picture and pays attention to the details can be the glue that binds your teams together. And this is crucial if you want to reach this year’s goals with greater speed and efficiency. Plus, it’s much better than the alternative of just winging it and hoping for the best!

📚 Recommended read: How To Create An Effective Annual Operating Plan (+Template)

Don’t get us wrong—creating and managing a yearly planning process can be a daunting task. But, with the right approach, you'll be able to get it right and start executing faster. Here's how to do annual planning the right way:

1. Analyze your performance and identify opportunities

Before you set goals , you should do an analysis of your company's current performance, market, and competitors to see where you stand. 

Here are some tools you can use in the process: 

  • SWOT analysis
  • PESTLE analysis
  • Porter’s Five Forces
  • Competitive analysis 
  • Financial performance of the previous year
  • Gap analysis  

A better understanding of your current performance can help you make data-driven decisions in the next steps of the planning process. 

Want to make it fail-proof? Don’t forget to include key stakeholders who will be involved in the day-to-day execution of your annual plan. 

Here’s who should be included in the analysis process: 

  • Executive leadership: They are responsible for setting the overall direction and strategy for the organization.
  • Department heads and team leaders: They can offer insights into team capabilities and resources. They can provide insight into the specific needs and challenges of their teams and ensure that their operational plans align with the annual plan.
  • Employees: Employees often have valuable insights and ideas that can help improve the plan. By involving them in the planning process, you can tap into this wealth of knowledge and potentially identify new opportunities or challenges that may not have been considered otherwise.
  • Customers: Customer feedback is critical to understanding the needs and priorities of the target market.
  • Suppliers and partners: Depending on the nature of the business, it may be beneficial to involve suppliers and partners in the strategic planning process. They can provide valuable insights into industry trends and potential challenges. 

👉Bonus tip: Don't let analysis paralysis slow you down! Set a timeline, prioritize data, make informed decisions, and don't overthink it. Move into the execution phase as fast as possible. Adapt later.

2. Formulate your strategy 

The data and insights from Step 1 should inform the formulation of your strategy for the coming year. At this point, you should have a clear sense of direction and objectives that your company wants to achieve in the coming year. 

💡 To identify and formulate your strategy, consider the following questions with your team:

  • What is the business problem that we are trying to solve?
  • What are our core strategic objectives , and how will we measure success?
  • What are our key strategic initiatives, and how will we prioritize them?
  • What are our key performance indicators , and how will we track progress?
  • Are there potential risks , and how will we mitigate them?
  • What resources will we need, and how do we allocate them?

Answering these questions will help you test the validity of your strategy and identify any potential gaps or risks that need to be addressed. In this way, you'll build a solid foundation for your annual plan and increase the chances of its successful execution.

3. Build your annual plan

Next, you’ll need to turn your strategy into a detailed roadmap that outlines the steps you’ll take to achieve your annual strategic objectives and goals. 

It’s like taking a map from a broad view of the journey to a more detailed look that zooms in on the roads and landmarks you’ll need to follow to reach your destination.

📝Your annual plan should include the following:

  • 🔎 Focus areas: The specific areas of the company or its operations that need improvement.
  • 📌Goals and objectives: Specific outcomes the company wants to achieve in its yearly plan. 
  • 📈Measures: Deliverables and KPIs to track progress toward your company’s goals and objectives.
  • 📤Actions: Specific actions or projects to achieve goals and objectives.
  • 😎Owners: Individuals or teams responsible for implementing the actions.
  • 📆Due dates: Specific deadlines and milestones throughout the year.
  • 💰Budget: Allocating the resources to achieve goals and objectives.

👉Here’s how Cascade can help you:  

Cascade’s strategic planning feature gives your annual planning process a standardized and structured approach that includes all the key elements for success. It helps you set high-level annual goals, break them down into smaller initiatives, and assign owners to drive accountability.

4. Create tight alignment with your teams

If the leadership team’s job is to set high-level company priorities to frame key strategic initiatives, then it’s up to specific business functions or teams to chart out the path to reach those strategic goals .

The first step in ensuring strategic alignment is to clearly communicate the plan to all employees. This can be done through regular meetings, company-wide presentations, and other forms of communication, such as a central location for your annual plan that is easily accessible to your stakeholders.

The key is to make sure that everyone understands the goals and objectives of the plan and how their work fits into the bigger picture.

With Cascade , you can link your annual strategic plan to individual departmental or team plans in a single source of truth. As a result, it's easier to ensure that everyone in the organization is aligned with the goals and objectives and monitor the progress being made toward those goals.

alignment cascade (1)

An example of the Cascade alignment view is where you can see how each plan aligns with the company's annual plan and drill down to evaluate performance.

5. Monitor progress and adjust your plan

Gone are the days of static, set-in-stone strategic plans! It's time to embrace flexibility and be willing to make changes as needed. Your annual plan is a flexible, dynamic roadmap that should be adjusted as circumstances change or new information becomes available. The key is to stay focused on your goals and objectives, and be ready to pivot when needed .

Here are some steps that you can take to monitor the annual plan and adapt as needed:

  • Set up a system for tracking progress: This can be done using a variety of tools, including spreadsheets, strategy reports , strategic planning software , or status reports . 
  • Establish regular review meetings: These meetings can be weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on the needs of your organization. The key is to make sure that progress is regularly reviewed and that any issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
  • Monitor key metrics: Track the most important KPIs that will help you quickly catch underperforming areas and evaluate the success of your annual plan and business strategies. 

If you want to be a savvy business leader, you need to always be monitoring progress, the business environment, and adjusting your plans accordingly. So, let's ditch the rigidity and embrace the flexibility of modern strategic planning and strategy execution! 

With Cascade’s powerful data visualization, you can connect multiple data sources from spreadsheets, project management tools, or business intelligence tools in a single place. You'll be able to uncover powerful insights and deliver accurate reports to help stakeholders make better decisions.

Plus, Cascade's drill-down capabilities allow you to easily explore and interact with your data to gain deeper insights in real time.

Ready for some serious annual planning made easy-peasy? We've got just the thing for you—our annual planning template ! This bad boy is like your own personal planning sidekick, packed with all the goodies you need to align your teams, monitor performance, and rock this year.

Think of it as a one-stop shop for all your annual planning needs. It’s pre-filled with examples that can guide you through the planning process, or you can customize it with your own information.

2023 strategy plan template

It’s a great alternative if you want to get out of messy and ineffective spreadsheets. Plus, it's got a super simple layout, so you won't be bogged down by a bunch of unnecessary features. This template can help, regardless of whether you work at a startup or an enterprise-sized company. And no matter the industry you’re in. 

Don't believe us? Give it a try! We guarantee it'll make your annual planning process a whole lot smoother and its execution a whole lot faster. So what are you waiting for? 

Sign up for a free forever plan with Cascade, add the annual planning template to your profile, and level up your game. It’s that simple. 

👉 Click here to get instant access to your annual planning template.

7 Mistakes To Avoid When Conducting Annual Strategic Planning

Alright, before you dive deep into your yearly planning session, let's talk about the elephant in the room: planning and execution mistakes . In this section, we're diving into some of the most common blunders made during the annual planning process, so you can dodge them like a boss. 

  • Lack of stakeholder engagement: Failing to involve critical stakeholders in the planning process can lead to a siloed plan that doesn’t align with the organization's capacities, needs, and priorities. 
  • Unrealistic goals: Be sure your planning is grounded in your situation's realities and consider your organization's resources, skills, and timelines. This is why it’s crucial that you consult with various stakeholders when planning and executing your strategy. If you need a goal-setting framework, you can check OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Or take a look at these 5 best strategic planning models to help you set SMART goals. 
  • Lack of flexibility: View your plan as a flexible roadmap, not a rigid set of rules, and be prepared to adapt as the business environment changes. The “perfect plan” doesn’t exist. As 76% of corporate strategy leaders report significant pivots in strategic plans happening more frequently, you need to be ready to expect the unexpected. 
  • Lack of resources: An annual plan that doesn’t consider your team member’s knowledge and skill sets won't result in tangible outcomes. Additionally, ensure that your business has the necessary resources and that your annual plan won’t cause a cash flow crunch.
  • Inadequate communication: Clear and transparent communication is crucial for success, so communicate plans to all stakeholders and ensure they understand the goals and how they fit into the organization's overall strategy.
  • Lack of follow-through: Nobody wins if your teams aren’t hitting goals, and your strategy is just a document collecting dust. According to Cascade’s Strategy Report , less than 20% of team members review progress weekly. Set up regular progress reviews and take corrective actions as needed. Ignore this pitfall, and you’ll set your strategy up for failure.
  • Misalignment between business strategy and team goals: Strategy execution is a team sport, and everyone needs to be on the same page. Share annual business goals with your team leaders and their team members. Let them set their team goals independently, give them feedback, and ensure buy-in early on.

Ready to tackle your annual planning with confidence? 

Remember, the key to success is having a clear plan in a single source of truth, organization-wide alignment, and being flexible enough to adapt when necessary.

And as a final reminder, don't forget to check out our annual planning template! It's the perfect tool to help you structure your plan, get your teams aligned with your strategic priorities, and keep track of your progress so you can adapt quickly if needed. 

So don't miss out, book a demo with one of our strategy experts or sign up today for free , and let's get started!

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A 5-Step Guide to Annual Planning for Your Business

With any luck, you were able to take some time off around the holidays to relax and recharge for the New Year. With time to reflect and decompress, you should be entering your next year of business with a fresh set of eyes and new found energy. Make the most out of this feeling by channeling your energy into annual business planning and give your business the direction and momentum it needs to have its best year yet.

Your business plan doesn’t have to be overly complex, but it does need to be organized and give you the framework to map out your next year of business. When we talk to our customers, we find that many business owners find the following five steps to be helpful and easy to navigate for their planning.

Review and Assess

  • Pull reports that give you a clear picture of your revenue year over year and month over month. Try to spot trends that help you identify activities you tried that worked well for your business, or things that didn’t. Next, take a look at your closest competitor. While you won’t be able to know what their books look like, you can get a feel for their revenue growth by looking at their marketing efforts, facility upgrades, etc.
  • Going through a traditional SWOT analysis is a great way to get a high-level view of your business over the last year that can help you spot obvious next steps and lessons for your annual business planning.

Define Your Purpose: Who are we here for?

  • By identifying your most valuable customers you will learn two things. Firstly, you’ll learn what ‘kind’ of customer is the best fit for your business, which will help you determine your target market and a focus for marketing to similar people that are not yet customers. Secondly, you’ll be able to learn more about your best customers and determine the best way to retain them and brand new customers.
  • Look at this group of “best customers” and determine what they’re buying and when they’re buying. This information will help you create a strategy for how to serve them better with more products or services that meet their needs. This is also a good time to think of different ways to reinforce your relationship with your customers by providing value through helpful information, coupons, or just a nice email message.
  • Think about your most valuable customers, why do you think they are choosing you over your competitor? If you’re not sure, it might be helpful to provide an easy way for your customers to provide feedback into what they like and don’t like about your business, so that you can continue to build on your strengths and learn from your weaknesses.

Outline High-Level Goals

  • To succeed, everyone within your organization needs to understand the underlying mission of your business—for the next year and for the long-term. Starting from the top (you) and down, take an honest look at the priorities each person carries: Do those priorities align with the business’ goals? Is that person working on the most impactful priorities, given their unique set of skills and expertise?
  • What does your business want to be when it grows up? With that clear picture in your mind start to think about the messaging and the offerings of the company you aim to be and weave that into your current activities to start building momentum behind the direction you want to move.

Make a Plan

  • Keep it short and keep it simple. Start with your goals for the upcoming year, figure out what activities need to happen to get to those goals, assign and delegate as a team, making sure everyone understands their priorities and accountability and give your team the autonomy and tools to succeed.
  • When your employees understand and believe in the business’ mission, they will feel a sense of purpose. When they understand how that mission can be achieved, they will feel a sense of direction and focus. Talk to your employees, have candid conversations and take that feedback into consideration in your annual business planning and as you think about the long-term vision of your organization.

Measure Success

  • Your annual plan is the road map for you and your employees for the next year. That road map needs milestones (deadlines, success metrics) that carry your plan forward through a series of smaller goals that lead into your larger goal of where you want your business to end up by the end of the year.
  • While your plan should provide structure, it should also be pliable. Revisit your plan often and make changes when needed. You are the boss of your plan so own it and let it be the tool that helps you feel ‘in control’ and helps drive the success of your business.

Going through the process of creating an annual plan is something that every business owner can benefit from, regardless of the size of the business. If you are a business of one, share your plan with a mentor or someone you respect in your network for feedback. If you are business of many employees, get feedback from your team to create an informed plan that everyone can buy into and get behind.

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Annual Planning: Why Is It So Important?

On a personal level, planning is an essential aspect of everyday life. And when it comes to companies, whether small or large, planning is equally essential. Annual planning is one of the most important activities that companies do every year because it provides an opportunity to set the overall direction of a company by discussing goals, metrics, budget, and performance.  

annual business plan outline

What Is Annual Planning?

Annual planning can be defined as the process of defining a business roadmap for your company and your employees. It can also be seen as an organization's financial plan for the year, and it is comprised of a series of milestones that help to carry the plan forward through several tasks that lead to a broader vision of where the company aims to be by the end of the year. 

Companies must hold planning sessions to review last year’s performance, as well as specific goals and achievements. These sessions will help to analyze expectations and results from the previous year in order to create an annual plan that gives everyone in the organization a sense of where they’re headed, and where they want to be twelve months from now. 

Is Annual Planning the Same as Strategic Planning?

Strategic planning is about establishing goals to sustain the company’s vision. Is about creating a strategy where the end product is a long-term plan that includes identifying goals, as well as mapping out how exactly those goals will be met. The process of strategic planning involves choosing a methodology, assessing resources, and receiving feedback from both external and internal stakeholders. A strategic plan can also be implemented during the course of years, and not necessarily within one business year. 

To put it simply, the strategic plan will identify the framework for a company to advance on its mission. The annual plan can include goals directly related to the strategic plan but it is largely connected to the budgetary approval process for the next business year, and as such, annual planning is usually conducted by leadership or directors. 

Why Is Annual Planning Important?

A well-formulated annual plan is an opportunity to set the overall direction for your company. It can also help to empower the team by providing a sense of direction. Let’s take a look at the most relevant benefits of annual planning:

  • Annual planning generates efficiency because it circles around performance.
  • It helps to define what is critical to achieving over the year.
  • It delivers clear leadership to employees and it helps to keep the workforce united.
  • Employees gain a clear sense of direction in their departments and roles. 
  • An annual plan can rally an entire organization around goals. It can also provide a stronger connection to the company’s strategic plan.

What Is Included in an Annual Plan?

Generally, an annual plan will contain the following elements:

Goals. Before you can look forward it’s important to look back. For this, it’s a great idea to review your SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals, they can help to clarify ideas, focus efforts and ensure resources are being used in the most productive manner. Remember, your annual plan should also hold a strong connection to your company’s strategic goals.

Budget. Financial elements are key to annual planning, so it’s important to take into consideration projections for the upcoming 12 months. These projections will help you plan resources, cash flow, and decide the best course of action and timing for individual projects. 

Expectations, responsibilities, and clear OKRs. Goals need to be clearly specified, indicating which teams, individuals, or departments will be responsible for carrying out tasks. Expectations must be exceptionally clear for collaborators. Also, working with well-defined OKRs can help to keep teams on track because they help to provide visibility into what other teams and individuals are working on. It’s all about maintaining the workforce motivated and crystal clear regarding who’s in charge of what. 

Timelines. When measuring performance it’s important to understand how successful your company has been in terms of achieving goals within their deadlines. Split your goals into tasks and set deadlines. 

Contingency plans. A well-formulated annual plan will also consider emergencies. It’s always a good idea to think of alternate scenarios, such as what would happen if suddenly your cash flow would become compromised? 

Values and mission. It’s also instrumental to keep your company’s aspirational future vision in mind when working on your annual plan. 

Annual Planning: 

When it comes to managing annual plans and strategic plans , you need to be on top of everything. A strong annual planning strategy can help to build a company’s broader strategic vision and to set the overall direction of a business roadmap for the next 12 months. However, as you may already know, this process entails keeping track of critical information. This can be an exhausting and difficult process, but it gets easier when you use the right tools. 

Project management software can be a powerful ally for project managers. Instagantt , for instance, allows you to keep information centralized. You can quickly store, update, share, access, and review important company-related information , all in one single place. With gantt charts , you can keep track of your budget and streamline your business plan, making sure you and your team stay on track. Moreover, you can use the same tool to keep track of your strategic and your annual plans, which will help to increase transparency across the organization, keeping track of the key results you’re trying to achieve, and visualizing progress and performance at all times. With the right tools and processes, you can create and execute a strong annual strategy.

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    Revisit your plan often and make changes when needed. You are the boss of your plan so own it and let it be the tool that helps you feel 'in control' and helps drive the success of your business. Going through the process of creating an annual plan is something that every business owner can benefit from, regardless of the size of the business.

  20. What Is Annual Planning?

    What Is Annual Planning? Annual planning can be defined as the process of defining a business roadmap for your company and your employees. It can also be seen as an organization's financial plan for the year, and it is comprised of a series of milestones that help to carry the plan forward through several tasks that lead to a broader vision of where the company aims to be by the end of the year.

  21. Business Plan Outline

    5 - Target Customers. Your Target Customers section precisely identifies your current and/or intended customers. Include as much demographic data on your target customers as possible, such as ...

  22. 4 Annual Planning Templates (And How To Create One)

    How to create an annual plan. Follow these steps to establish an annual plan for an organization: 1. Evaluate the previous year. The first step is to collect information about the company's performance for the past 12 months. Its current status can help you determine an agenda for the future.

  23. 8+ SAMPLE Annual Business Plans in PDF

    Executive Summary: One of the basic elements of an annual business plan is the executive summary. It provides a brief summary of the document which emphasizes the intentions of the entrepreneur that will be discussed in the overall plan. It should be a compelling part of the plan as it shows the mission statement of the business, plus a brief description of the products and services.

  24. Classy Career Girl® on Instagram: "Are you ready to make 2024 the best

    7 likes, 2 comments - classycareergirl on February 18, 2024: "Are you ready to make 2024 the best year of your life? The only way to reach your goals in 2024 ..."